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August 21, 2007

Mouth Movements

Posted in: Acting and Characters

After last week’s experience in the bayou, I’ve been thinking about lip synchronization and how important mouth movements are to the believability of a character.

It is so much easier to have accurate lip sync when you are performing the puppet’s voice yourself, than if you are having to anticipate the sounds of a recording. Matching someone else’s delivery style, pacing, and general voice acting is tough. So how can you make the best of a not-so-perfect situation? Here are some hints:

a scene from the bayou1 - Get to know the character. What’s the personality? What’s the backstory? If you know the type of character, then you will have an easier time getting the body movements to match. For example, for that bayou project I found myself as the primary puppeteer for a snobbish, gossipy, and sometimes devious duck named Dixie, as well as an upright, sensible, fun-loving grandpa character named Pappy. If I had played both characters with the same intensity, posture, and movements, I would have looked like an idiot. Know-it-all Dixie had to give off an attitude (much like a typical teenage female) by rollin’ her head all around, nose in the air, and an “I’m-better-than-you” posture. Pappy sure would have looked funny if he had acted that way.

2 - Get to know the content. What’s going on in the scene? What’s your character thinking? …feeling? …wanting? Our situation at that video shoot was not ideal. We had to shoot episodes that we had never heard nor had a chance to even read. And to complicate matters, we were recording out of sequence so we didn’t really know the whole story until the end of the day. You’ve heard actors asking their directors, “What’s my motivation?” Well, we found ourselves doing that a lot. One scene in particular involved a big bear and a young lost camper. Think of all the ways THAT could have gone! Insight into the story was essential if we were to act and react properly. Life is so much simpler when you know the script ahead of time. :-)

3 - Get to know the recording. Listen to it again and again. What’s the pacing? Where are the pauses and breaths? Animators will listen to each individual line dozens of times as they determine appropriate timing and movements based on the voice actor’s delivery. Listen to what the voice talent has given you and know it intimately. If you think this is too hard, name your favorite movie. Go ahead, name it. Now, tell me your favorite line from that movie. Do it just the way the actor did. Go ahead, nobody’s watching. See? You are so familiar with that line, you can deliver it just the way it was in the movie. You know it because you have spent time with it. Now, your puppet script recording may not be as exciting as that, but you should spend plenty of time getting to know it if you want to make people believe that your character is actually saying it.

In the bayou we did not have the luxury of getting to know our recordings ahead of time. We had to make the most of the few minutes in between scenes to listen and learn fast. (Our audio guy got a workout that week!) But the other thing we had on our side was practice. The best way to master lip synchronization is to just do it. Practice with the radio on your way to work. Practice with your teachers in school (just hide your hand, please). I got tons of practice at college… I went to a Christian school where daily chapel was a required event and sleeping was not allowed. So, I folded my arms so as to hide my puppet hand, and kept myself awake (and listening) by syncing to the speaker. Try that for an hour a day and see how much better you’ll get!

The point is, it takes time. It takes a determined effort to know the character, situation, and timing. And if you succeed, your performance will be believable and entertaining. And, if you’re really good, somebody might actually offer you money to do it again.

Do you perform your puppet voices live or do you lip sync to a recording?

  • Well, see… it depends… sometimes it’s live, sometimes not. (50%, 13 Votes)
  • Live..! I am the puppet… (31%, 8 Votes)
  • It’s all canned. I can’t do voices! (19%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 26


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